CARROLLTON: Drilling in Ohio’s Utica Shale is contributing to air pollution in Carroll County and could raise the health threat and cancer risk to residents, according to researchers involved in a new study.
But the number of air samples collected by researchers from the University of Cincinnati and Oregon State University is too small to determine the risk from the hydrocarbon-based compounds, and additional testing is recommended.
There is just not enough evidence to determine if the air pollutants are an issue of big concern or a health threat, they said.
Drilling “may be contributing significantly to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the air, at levels that are relevant to human health,” the researchers said in their report.
The study, funded by $150,000 in federal grants, marks the first time researchers have gathered data on air pollution near Ohio drilling, said environmental health professor Erin Haynes of the University of Cincinnati.
The results were released Thursday by Haynes and toxicologist Diana Rohlman of Oregon State at a public meeting. The information has been published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Carroll County southeast of Canton was selected because of concerns raised by local residents. It is the No. 1 drilling county in Ohio. It has 354 horizontal wells that are in production, more than any other county, according to state records.
The airborne levels of PAHs found in Carroll County were significantly higher than what was found by other researchers in downtown Chicago; South Haven, Mich.; a Belgian oil refinery; an Egyptian city; or the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The levels look pretty bad,” Haynes said. The Carroll numbers are “higher, much, much higher” than the other sites, she said.
That analysis looked at only 14 PAHs that were found at all those sites, Haynes and Rohlman said.
Samplers were placed on 23 private properties in Carroll County for three weeks in February 2014. A total of 32 measurable PAHs were detected.
The team looked for 62 PAHs. It did not analyze other pollutants.
Additional air samples were collected in May 2014 including having 25 local volunteers wear wristbands that collected air samples. That information is awaiting analysis.
The concentrations of the PAHs were highest closest to drilling sites and decreased as one moved away from the drilling, the researchers said.
Analysis also proved that PAH leaks from drilling contributed most heavily to the samples at sites closest to wells, not man-made PAHs, they said.
The cancer risk may increase slightly for those closest to the drilling, but those mathematical models are based on too few samples to be significant, Haynes and Rohlman said. It could increase by 2 to 3 cancer cases per 10,000 people, depending on proximity, they said.
The levels suggested would exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable cancer risk level.
Those models relied on assumptions including people never moving from the exposure over 25 years that are totally impractical, they admitted.
Such findings in rural Carroll County are disturbing, said Paul Feezel, a spokesman for Carroll Concerned Citizens, a grass-roots group that aided in the research.
It is especially surprising to learn that Carroll County’s PAH levels are so much higher than the other locations cited by the researchers, he said.
His group said it will push for additional air testing.
Local resident Elizabeth Neider said she wants to know what chemicals are in the chemical cloud over her property during drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Mike Chadsey of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association was not impressed by the report.
The sample size is far too small, the results are not statistically significant, a lot of unrealistic assumptions were made in the modeling, no laws were broken by drillers and researchers went next to drilling sites and detected hydrocarbons as would be expected, he said.